We welcome sign-ons from religious and civil society organizations. Please do not sign this letter as an individual. Questions can be directed to Susan Gunn, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, firstname.lastname@example.org
April 5, 2019
The Hon. Mike PompeoSecretary of StateU.S. Department of State2201 C Street, N.W.Washington, D.C. 20520
Re: Religious and civil society organizations urge Secretary Pompeo to publicly raise concerns with the Republic of Guatemala over the criminalization of human rights defenders Claudia Samayoa and José Martínez
Dear Secretary Pompeo:
We write to you as religious and civil society organizations concerned with the climate for human rights defenders in Guatemala. Many of us have worked alongside impoverished and marginalized communities in Guatemala, some for many years. Under President Jimmy Morales, the government of Guatemala has undertaken an ongoing, targeted criminalization of human rights defenders including the recent judicial persecution of Mrs. Claudia Virginia Samayoa Pineda and Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera. We urge you to publicly draw attention to the Guatemalan government’s growing intolerance of independent dissent by citizens like Mrs. Samayoa Pineda and Mr. Martínez Cabrera who are working to defend human rights, democracy, land rights, and the environment.
Mrs. Samayoa Pineda is President of the Board of Directors of UDEFEGUA, an organization which works to support human rights defenders in Central America. Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera is a member of the Justicia Ya Collective, a citizen movement which opposes corruption and impunity. Both human rights defenders are the subject of a criminal complaint by Mr. Nester Mauricio Vásquez Pimentel, in his capacity as President of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) and representing the CSJ. The Supreme Court of Justice has filed spurious charges of illegally obtaining a court document and influence peddling against Ms. Samayoa and Mr. Martinez. It is broadly acknowledged that civil society groups, including UDEFEGUA and the Justicia Ya collective, have been instrumental in the fight against impunity and public corruption in the Guatemala.
The criminal case against the two human rights defenders is a direct response to a complaint they filed on January 17, 2019 requesting the withdrawal of the privilege of immunity for eleven judges of the CSJ. The complaint contends that the judges breached the Constitution of Guatemala and committed judicial prevarication by removing the immunity of three judges on the Constitutional Court and allowing criminal proceedings against them. Along with the complaint presented to CSJ on January 17, 2019, Mrs. Samayoa Pineda and Mr. Martínez Cabrera annexed a copy of the CSJ decision which allows the criminal proceedings against the Constitutional Court to move forward. Even though this document had been widely circulated in the national press and on social media, the President of the CSJ is accusing these two human rights defenders of illegally obtaining it.
The criminalization of both defenders is yet another example of the targeted reprisals leveled against civil society organizations and human rights defenders that have mobilized against a series of attacks on Guatemala's democratic institutional framework. Among other worrying attempts to undermine democratic norms and the rule of law in Guatemala, the government has attacked institutions that have sought to root out impunity and corruption. The most recent efforts include delegitimizing the Constitutional Court judges and unilaterally canceling an agreement with the UN that had established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Since its inception in 2006, the CICIG has conducted many independent investigations leading to important judicial decisions to address impunity and corruption and strengthen the rule of law.
As religious and civil society organizations committed to justice and human rights, we urge you to publicly speak out in defense of fundamental freedoms and human rights and to call on the Guatemalan government to:
• End all acts of harassment, misuse of criminal law and criminalization against individuals, organizations, and communities that defend human rights in Guatemala, including Mrs. Claudia Virginia Samayoa Pineda and Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera. In particular, we ask you to publicly call on the Public Ministry of Guatemala to dismiss the criminal complaint against both human rights defenders.
• Adopt the most appropriate measures to guarantee the safety and physical and psychological integrity of Mrs. Samayoa Pineda and Mr. Martínez Cabrera and of all human rights defenders in Guatemala.
• Protect, respect and guarantee the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all regions of Guatemala, as well as the validity of a democratic State.
This moment of grave threat to the human rights and lives of Ms. Claudia Virginia Samayoa Pineda and Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera presents a critical opportunity to clarify that the U.S. government stands in defense of human rights, transparency, and democracy. We urge you to speak publicly on their behalf and on behalf of all human rights defenders.
Signatory organizations (cited in alphabetical order):